In the World of 'Tomorrow,' Creating New Recipes for Disaster
"That was a great present. My boots filled with water, and there was adrenaline."
That was because the young actor was drenched with water gusts from two diesel-powered V-8 wind machines mounted on moveable forklifts and 10 giant spinning rain towers spewing 5,000 gallons per minute.
"It got pretty bad," he says, while insisting that he had a good time. "I'm a masochist. They smacked me in the face with a wave and I couldn't see anything in the pouring rain. We had special effects guys standing at the edge in front of a blue screen making waves in the water with huge pieces of wood. Those were the only waves I saw."
At the beginning, Goulekas assumed that the buildings and water were going to be the toughest things to do. But at least "there were lots of real-life references for those," she says. "You can see footage of floods in cities." The real challenge turned out to be putting New York under the Big Freeze. What would happen to the buildings if the temperature dropped to 150 degrees below zero? "No one else had ever done a frozen city," claims Chambers.
The script called for the movie's Cassandra paleoclimatologist (Dennis Quaid), who has predicted that global warming will bring on a new Ice Age, to trek on snowshoes up the frozen, snow-buried Eastern seaboard from Washington to Manhattan to rescue his son (Gyllenhaal), who is holed up inside the library.
All the long shots of people walking through the snow were created inside the computer using digital stand-ins. Even the hungry wolves are digital creations. When Emmerich tried to use real ones, "they were docile and cute and scared," Goulekas says. With a computerized camera technique called motion-capture, George Lucas's effects house Industrial Light + Magic tracked the movements of German police dogs and added hair-raising infrared eyes and wolf fur.
ILM went punk with the frozen Statue of Liberty, giving her ice spikes on her frizzled white crown. The shot that kept Goulekas up at night was the ice crackling down the Empire State Building. "It becomes a scale issue," she explains. "How big is the ice? How quickly does it cover the city? If it's too big, it looks like a miniature city. If it's too small, it looks like it's covered with snow. It's important that the viewer understand what it is." Through trial and error, Goulekas shot different panes of glass with different kinds of spray ice, heating it with a blow-dryer to form ice flowers, and overlaid that texture on the C-G buildings.
For Gyllenhaal, too, working with snow and ice was more difficult than water. A company called Snow Business provided 20 kinds of snow.
Falling snow was made of little bits of shredded paper that "gets in your nose, eyes and eyelashes," he says. "It constantly takes going inside for a guy to wipe your face off, and outside again. They also put ice on your face, little rubber plastic crystals that you find in every crevice, like your eyes. Even weeks later you're taking them out of your ears and nose."
Fallen snow was ultra-absorbent diaper filling that expands with water. "It slips through your hands," says Gyllenhaal, "and it's impossible to walk on. You slip and fall over. It looks and feels like real snow, but when the FX guy blew it into Dennis's face in large amounts, he threw up." The actors had to wear spikes in their shoes to grip the wooden floor below the "snow."
"I knew what I was getting myself into," insists Gyllenhaal. "I didn't know I would be bombarded with baby diaper filling."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company